Finster

We typically get one of a handful of reactions when we tell people we’re getting married at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.

1) Great! What’s the Heidelberg Project?

2) You’re getting married there?

3) OMG! That’sSOcool!!1!

And here in Georgia…

4) The what Project? [Response interrupted by brief explanation…la, la, la, still explaining…OK. Now.] Oh, so like Paradise Gardens?

And then Jay launches into a story about that time he met Howard Finster and heard about how the artist saved the empire of Japan. And then I go, “Paradise…Howard…what?”

Let’s rewind: yes, Georgia has it’s own vividly colored, surprisingly placed open-air art project by a charming local fellow with relatively little artistic training!

We’ll post more about the Heidelberg Project on the blog later, but first, let’s explore Georgia’s art project.

Paradise Gardens is the work of Howard Finster, who passed away in 2001, but only after decades spent creating nearly 50,000 pieces of art on his land in Chattooga County. Maybe you saw it in the 1983 video for R.E.M’s “Radio Free Europe,” in the documentary “Athens, GA: Inside Out” and in the High Museum’s permanent collection, just a few floors away from the unintentionally comedic collection of English ceramics.

The Heidelberg Project and Finster’s gardens are both big, colorful and loaded with found-objects-turned-art, but they don’t really exist for the same reasons, nor have they gotten similar reactions. Finster created art to spread the word of God. To be clear: he was repairing a bicycle, saw a face on the finger where he was rubbing the paint and the finger-face was telling him so create sacred art. The people of Georgia seem generally OK with this.

The Heidelberg Project was created by artist Tyree Guyton with his grandfather, Sam Mackey. It was part experimentation, part political protest, part neighborhood revitalization, or so the story goes.

Finster’s art was on the cover of a Talking Heads album; portions of the Heidelberg Project have been demolished on two occasions, under two different mayors. Even now, some people I know, people who know the words to “And She Was” by heart, strongly dislike the Heidelberg Project.

Either way, there’s good news for both projects. Robert, Jay’s dad, sent along a Chattanooga Times Free Press article about a recent Paradise Gardens volunteer cleanup. Up in Detroit, the Erb Family Foundation made a $75,000 grant to the Heidelberg Project to create a “vibrant urban area” around it.

We’re thrilled to have our wedding ceremony there. Afterward, maybe over pie, you should ask Jay about how a guy with a talking finger saved Japan.

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  1. […] site for a wedding, but exactly the kind of place for us. I wrote a bit about its history in an earlier post, but we wanted to point out its recent mention in The New York Times, one that says the […]

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